Supporting Those with Visual Impairment

Do you sometimes feel overly conscious or worry about offending someone who is blind? Are you unsure which language to use or how to really include them in your groups? Here are some practical tips on how to support those with visual impairment. If you would like a handout to share with others (including residents!), email for a free copy.

People with visual impairment are able to actively participate in groups when we provide them with some support. Here are a few suggestions for the Java Music Club and Java Mentorship programs specifically and following that, some excellent general tips from the National Federation of the Blind website.

When singing or doing the ‘Getting Centered Practice/Closing Affirmations”:

As they are not be able to see the lyrics, invite them to play an instrument, such as rhythm sticks, a tambourine or a maraca during songs and/or comment on the lyrics after the song is over. Another option is to invite them from time to time to play the windchimes during the ‘Getting Centered Practice” and during the “Closing Affirmation” or play the windchimes as a lovely ending to a song.

When passing a photograph around:

1)      Invite them to listen to what everyone else sees in the photo and have them comment last on what was heard

2)      Alternatively, you could sit beside them and describe the photo to them as best you can and what you see in it. Then ask for their thoughts.

3)      Give a couple of story options – for example, the gratitude photo…say something like: “This is a photo of a young woman, standing on a mountain top with her arms stretched way up. It looks like a sunset, or a sunrise. I think this could be a mother who is just taking some time for herself – she is so busy with her children, and every evening she comes to this special place for some peace and quiet and to say thank you….or….hmmm….maybe it’s a young girl and someone just proposed her. It looks like she is very happy because both her arms are waaaay up. She’s been waiting a long time for this guy to propose!”

4)      Then you could say…. “Why else do you think a young woman would stand on a mountain top at sunrise with her arms outstretched to the sky?”(that way they can contribute a story of their own, if they wish).

The main thing is that we include them, not that we do it perfectly. See below for some excellent general tips.

How to Communicate with Someone Who is Blind (Cont’d)
From the National Federation of the Blind (NFB):

  • Don’t speak in an exaggeratedly loud voice or talk down to a person who is blind.
  • Direct questions or comments directly to the person who is blind or visually impaired, not to someone they are with.
  • Avoid pointing to objects or people; instead, verbalize by saying, “It’s on your left.”
  • Identify yourself when someone who is blind or visually impaired enters a room or when you are approaching the person.  For example, say, “Hi, Joe. It’s Emily.”
  • If you’re in a group, try to address a person who is visually impaired by name so that he or she knows who you’re talking to.
  • Introduce a blind person to other people in the room, such as in a meeting or at a lunch table.
  • When leaving a room, it’s courteous to let a blind person know that you are leaving.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a person if he or she needs help; if the answer is no, respect his or her wishes.
  • People who are blind don’t have “superhuman” senses of hearing, touch or smell; they’ve simply learned to get more information from these other senses because they rely on them more.
  • People who are blind probably don’t want your pity, but chances are, they’d like to feel like a part of the team at their job just like anybody else.  Don’t be afraid to make the first move.

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